Original article by Elizabeth Gigis, DVM, West Chester Veterinary Center , August, 2011
The summer is definitely upon us! This means vacations, trips to the pool, and other fun summer activities for most of us. It can, however, be a dangerous time for your pet if precautions are not taken. One major cause of health issues for pets during the summer is heat related injuries. Heat stroke is a condition where a dog’s body temperature rises above 105. A normal body temperature for a dog is less than 102.5. Heat stroke can occur in indoor dogs not acclimated to extreme heat when outside for only 10-15 minutes. The humidity is also a complicating factor. A type of dog that is over-represented is the brachycephalic or “short-faced” dog, such as pugs and bulldogs. These dogs have a smaller diameter airway, so much more work is required for a short faced dog to pass the same amount of air to get cool. As a result, these dogs get anxious, and the airways become inflamed or swollen. This leads to a vicious cycle of increased anxiety and more swelling.
Dogs that are “outdoor dogs” during the summer should always have access to shade. A children’s wading pool is a good idea also, and can be purchased at most major retailers for less than twenty dollars. Remember to change the water regularly. It is important to note that a dog left in a car (even if the windows are cracked) can develop heatstroke, often in only five minutes.
It is very important for you to be aware of how your dog has been outside, and always monitor him for early signs of heat injury during these summer months. Let’s review some of the common signs of heatstroke. Dogs pass air quickly over the tongue through panting. Saliva is evaporated from the tongue as air passes across, and this cools the blood circulating through the tongue. This blood is circulated to the rest of the body. If this mechanism is not sufficient for cooling, the body temperature will rise and you will begin to see the beginnings of a heat stroke. First, the dog will increase his panting, and then begin to salivate. He may lie down and refuse to get up. His mucous membranes or gums will begin to look “muddy” or bluish purple, instead of pink. The pet may also vomit or have diarrhea. In severe cases, dogs can lose consciousness and have seizures as the brain overheats. It is important to note that heatstroke can cause severe damage to all major internal organs, including the liver, kidneys, heart, lungs and brain. Heat stroke also causes problems with the clotting factors inside the dog’s blood stream, a severe and life-threatening condition called “DIC”. Even if your dog recovers from the initial heat injury, he can be left with a lifelong condition that may require treatment.
If you suspect your dog may have heatstroke, it’s important to institute some basic first aid procedures, and then take him to a veterinarian immediately. Bring your dog inside and immediately begin to spray him off with cool water. Also apply rubbing alcohol to his paw pads. Do not apply ice packs to the skin or hair, as this can cause blood vessels in the skin to constrict, moving the blood away from the skin, and prevents cooling. At your veterinarian’s office, your dog will likely be treated with IV fluids, oxygen therapy and other medications as needed depending on the severity of the heat injury. A heat stroke can have a mortality rate of up to fifty percent even if treated appropriately. Early treatment is critical to success and has a direct impact on your dogs outcome. Of course, prevention is the best cure!
Education is the first step in pet poison prevention.
Pet owners should take the time to educate themselves on the various, sometimes unexpected, pet poisons in their environments. The Pet Poison Helpline provides an extensive list of poisonous items for pet owners to be aware of, but here are a few of the most common items seen by veterinarians:
Many people believe certain dog breed, such as huskies and malamutes, are capable of living outside all of the time because of their thick coats. However, no dog breed should be consistently left unprotected outside. According to the City of Cincinnati, when the temperature is below 20 degrees Fahrenheit or above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, a pet owner should not leave their dog outside for longer than sixty minutes without adequate shelter. For outside dogs, owners should provide a warm, dry, draft free shelter with fresh, unfrozen water. Heated water bowls are a great option to ensure consistent access to unfrozen water. Owners should also feed their outdoor dogs more during the winter because their bodies use more energy trying to keep warm. In 2016, the City of Cincinnati passed an ordinance with further restrictions and shelter guidelines for dog tethering and weather conditions, which can be found by clicking here
A common winter hazard that vets encounter consistently with cats is engine belt injuries. Cats will climb into cars to keep warm, and without knowing they’re there, people will start their cars and harm the cats. Before starting your car in the winter, it’s advised to give the car hood a few raps to make sure there are no cats cozied up inside.
Pets start an estimated 1,000 fires per year. While this isn’t a huge number, it’s easily preventable. Pet owners should identify the risks in their home and make sure they’re contained from pets. Risks to consider include, open flames such as candles, space heaters, stovetops, fireplaces, and frayed wires chewed by puppies.
Even if all fire hazards are contained from pets, there’s still always a chance of a house fire. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) , there’s a home fire reported every 86 seconds in the United States. So while the hope is that you and your pets never have to face a fire, it’s important to have a plan.
In case of a fire, pet owners should hang window clings that let firefighters know there’s a pet in the home. The ASPCA offers a free Pet Fire Safety Pack that includes a window decal. When leaving home, pet owners should know where their pets are and keep them close to exits if possible. Pet owners should also consider investing in monitored smoke detectors that alert homeowners of a fire when they’re not home and automatically dispatch firefighters.
Getting your dog microchipped is an easy and relatively inexpensive procedure that drastically increases the odds that your pet will find its way home if it’s ever lost. A microchip is a tiny chip that’s about the size of a grain of rice and contains a unique identification number. It’s injected into a pet’s skin between the shoulder blades on their back. When scanned with an electric scanner, the chip will show the unique identification number and manufacturer of the microchip. This unique identification number will be linked to the pet owner’s contact information in the microchip manufacturer’s database.
If a stranger ever finds your dog, a shelter or veterinarian can scan your pet for a microchip. Once they have the identification number and manufacturer from the chip reading, they will call the manufacturer in search of the pet owner’s contact information. Therefore, if a dog owner moves or changes their contact information, it’s extremely important for them to update the contact information associated with their pet’s microchip identification number.